Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Neat item that dropped in my lap...

So I got a package today, and it was a box of Batman LEGO comics.


These are for an event that I will be at this weekend in Chapel Hill, NC. Steve Witt mailed them out for distribution.

This comic is a promotional (and is 16 pages), and hasn't been seen around, so far as I know...anyone know of these?

And anyone want one? Drop me a note if you do - I'll send out 1 of them to the first ten that respond - send to admin@brickjournal.com, subject: Batman!

Thanks Steve!

The European Bureau

With the formation of a European Bureau (thank you Melody), there have been a lot of new things that have been brought to my attention.

We now are getting reports on many more clubs and many more events - and it's exciting to see how vibrant the community is overseas. And there are going to be more builder spotlights from people who are 'under the radar' - these builders may only show at displays and only be seen on Brickshelf.

There's so much that hasn't been shown yet in the community - and it's really fun to explore what is out there. And the European community has been very happy to become an active part of BrickJournal.

On that note, I also should point out that I am beginning a layout staff - I have three people interested in helping out, and I would like to thank them: Bill Jacob, Didier Enjary, and Camille Goureau-Suignard. Thanks for stepping up to assist!

Is there more out there?

You bet there is - we just gotta look!

So I built something!

Sometimes it's good just to build something to get it out of your system....

It's the Seasprite - a fast search and retrieval vehicle for Alpha Team Mission Deep Sea. It was designed as a response to the OGEL and Sea Monkey threat - a vehicle had to be developed that was fast and maneuverable.

The Seasprite has caterpillar drive motors that can be independently pivoted, allowing for high speed and tight turns.it's also quiet, so the stealthiness of the craft is very high.

Building notes:

Took me three hours of building to make the Seasprite, and I'm very happy with the shape. Sleek is hard to do, but it worked out pretty well this time. The engines worked out well, and building the wings in front was a nice challenge.

The cockpit is a little spare (needs work), but I think I will rework this after I get done with work to make it a military version.

You can see more pics here.

It's nice to know I can build still:-)

Monday, January 29, 2007

How big is the community?

So that is a question floating on LUGNET, and there have been some interesting responses.

I don't know the size, but I can give some thoughts -

There are approximately 3000 members of LUGNET presently, and that is a growing number.

There are approximately 70,000 downloads of BrickJournal for each issue.

BZPower has about 30,000 registered users.

Conventions draw from 100 - 400 registered attendees,  while public attendance is 10 times that number.

There's a lot more information that is out there, but I'm just using these for examples.

What does this mean?

The community has a lot of potential for growth.  There are many people who find this hobby interesting enough to look at and even pay for displays. The trick is finding people who are interested in building. And those people are out there.

There a LOT of AFOLs that still don't know about clubs and other builders. And there are the other avenues of finding builders - FIRST LEGO League is a good example. These are middle-schoolers who use MINDSTORM sets to take on challenges - the World Festival is an amazing event where people allover meet!

The bigger question is does the community want to grow, and how this would be managed.

My position is that yes, the community should grow. It needs to provide opportunities to let things grow, by providing information on clubs and events (including showing how to do events).

The community should be looking at other places to outreach also - there are other conventions, such as science-fiction conventions (that's where House of Bricks began) and local events - cultural festivals, for example. Much of this already happening, and this is good - and this lays down a ground work for the community to grow.

Do I see a convention that woudl have 1000 attendees?  I do, but it would take around 5 years to reach that number. It would also require the help of the LEGO Group on a scale not seen before. Such a convention would be a longer event also, with some really neat possibilities for seminars and activities.

The danger presently is believing that 'we' are the community. The community is a lot bigger, but lurking.


BrickJournal is turning a corner.

There have been some responses to my calls for layout people, and so there are at least two people who will be helping out me with design and layout.

What this really means is that the magazine can be completed faster. And I am very happy about that.

And now the European Bureau is constantly surprising me with article ideas and articles - there are now over 40 article ideas that have been submitted into the pool - and that's great news!

I am also delighted with the enthusiasm that came with the European Bureau. THings are definitely going up a level - or two!

Thursday, January 25, 2007

NXT Books...(minor rant)

So I went to Barnes and Noble and out of curiousity, I looked for books about the NXT. I know some are coming out, but haven't seen what actually is out.

Well, it took some looking - NXT is under robotics which is under technology, etc...bt I found two books:

LEGO Mindstorms NXT: The Mayan Adventure, by Jim Kelley (with help from Brian Davis)

LEGO Mindstorms NXT: Hacker's Guide, by Dave Prochnow

Now, I will preface this by a blog entry that is in the NXT Step last month about the books - turns out that there was a dismissive remark by Prochnow referring to Kelly's book trying to show how the Hacker's is better.

Well, after browsing, I determined that the Hacker's Guide wasn't all that impressive. For a book that was 450+ pages, it was surprising that any mention of the NXT doesn't happen until about page 80. The hacking I saw was making custom wires with phone jacks - um, I know about that from Philo's website and that's FREE!

There is mention of an in-depth guide to the NXT programming language, but all I found was a listing of the commands with basic information on each command - no depth.

But that's the running story of this book - if this was billed as an overall look at the LEGO product, maybe it has some worth. But honestly, I was turned off by it, or maybe hacked off. That was probably because of the Mega-Bloks reference in the book - as a resource. Um, nothing like not knowing enough of your readership to say something completely out of line.

On the other hand, the Mayan Adventure is not bad at all - unlike the Hacker's Guide, it doesn't use cool and fluffy copy that has nothing to do with the subject. What it does do is create a story with a hook to get readers interested - a problem is presented, and then the solution presented in an engaging manner. The process is discussed in programming and building, and through this approach, a reader gets an understanding of the NXT. That's what I want.

So what do I recommend? As a person, I recommend the Mayan Adventure. As an AFOL, I recommend the Mayan Adventure.

BrickJournal hasn't done book reviews yet...maybe that's a good thing:-)

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Geez, writing is TOUGH!

This issue of BrickJournal is going along, but needs some articles.

From me. I've had writer's block. It's really frustrating to sit at my computer and stare at a blank screen for an hour - I could be doing something, well, constructive!

Sometimes the challenge is coming up with a new twist on a format - a new event report, for example. Sometimes it's trying to come up withthe right way to depict a subject. And sometimes it's trying to demystify a subject to a readable level.

That was the challenge for the article I just wrote for Serious Play, which is basically a workshop using LEGO building in a professional setting.

The problem to crack on this is to make a lot of really deep stuff distill to something readable - there's a lot of theory and a lot of studies that work withthis, but while i could make a long article, it wouldn't be readable to many.

It took me over a month to figure out an angle, and it was really simple. I was given a demonstration on a workshop, and while I wa going to talk about what it did, it dawned on me that I actually acted on what I discovered on the demonstration. So I created a testimonial of sorts.

It was a nice surprise to suddenly burst into writing last night because I knew where I was going.

And for you, try this little demo from Serious Play:

You will need at least one other person, and a secltion of the following parts:

some bricks (all colors), 2x, 1x,
a couple of axle connectors
some axles
some wheels
three minifigs with a smiley, a skull, and one more face.
random specialty parts.
and a stopwatch

No more than 30 parts altogether.

Now here's the test: In five minutes build a model of yourself. That's right, with the parts make a depiction of yourself.

When the time is up, tell your partner about what you built. ANd thenn let him/her to ask questions about your model. Then let the partner do the same.

You'll be surprised by what you build and what you learn.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

neat things happening on one night...

I mentioned many entries ago I am a fan of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition this episode was particularly moving.

This time the show went to Raleigh, my hometown! And it was really neat to see it in places I recognized- although the city sign that is seen greeting the bus as it pulled into town is a prop:-)

There were a lot of things that made this very emotional for me - the family really deserved the house, and what the mother did for her community is really wonderful.

Seeing the work done by locals also made feel really proud - I'm happy to be in a city that for the most part is friendly. I have been in Raleigh for almost 20 years, and I felt really proud seeing people help out and return to a family who has given a lot to the community.

The biggest surprise, though, was what the boy in the family wanted - he wanted ''those plastic blocks'' and sports in his room...and it was LEGO! Apparently for legal reasons, LEGO could not be mentioned. But what was neat was that they contacted a LEGO builder - a Certified Professional by the name of Nathan Sawaya.

He's not a local, contrary to what the show said. But he's one of a few people in the continent that are recognized by the LEGO Group for their skills and are in a sense, business partners. He's one of  four people - the others are Dan Parker, Sean Kenney, and Robin Sather. All have done sculptures for large scale displays in the US and Canada.

Nathan built some sculptures with a sports bent, including  a basketball mosaic, basketball player sculpture, and football field mosaics. So he was in my hometown - how cool is that!

And where was I while this show was being filmed? I was in Germany. Argh! I would have given anything to help out...

but it was a good show nonetheless.

Dang the torpedoes, full speed ahead!

BrickJournal 6 is in the works. This has been the toughest issue I have had to layout. This is because almos every article has had some element that has made me think harder than usual on layouts.

Sometines it's good, as there may be a pic that is greta to use and I want to wrap type around it. But other times, it's bad as photos may be too small to use. But things get worked out, and I continue on.

There's some neat stuff coming out with Issue 6 - there's some NXT stuff coming (a little late, but there will be more coming) and the Jørgen Vig Knudstorp interview I mentioned. There's also the event reports and usual stuff too.

But wait till Issue 7.......

Now another subject: News leaks.

BrickJournal hasn't leaked anything - but then again, one policy I have is not be in a position to leak things, so we often are just as surprised as everyone else  when photos are posted on upcoming sets. With the French Toy Fair, though, things are a bit confusing.

Here's the problem: The AFOLs to the Fair were invited to attend and take pics (what, you expect them NOT to tell anyone?), and they put them up for everyone. Then they get pulled off because it's confidential. Images from catalogs are deemed confidential too.

Now don't get me wrong - I have enough NDAs with the LEGO Group to know better than to spout off about sets and stuff. This is information that is proprietary, so I cannot tell people anything. I understand that there are corporate spies who are looking for all of this info, and I adhere to the NDAs I have.

But a Toy Fair is not a confidential thing. In fact, it's the exact opposite - it's a show for buyers to see what is coming out to get them to buy. And all companies  are showing off,  including the competitors - and  if there is a direct chance to get  info on sets, that's the time to do it! Why wait for a leak when company reps can go personally to look??

I really wish that LEGO would put out ALL the info to coincide with toy fairs - as in make news releases for the new sets. It would be great for the fans, and since it's documentation, it can be used in case there is a suspicious copy done by a competitor - it would be hard to prove intial rights when a dated public document is released.

BrickJournal has been invited to go to the Toy Fair this year, incidentally.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Taking a look at the new sets (from the French Toy Fair)

EDIT: The photos were pulled off at request of LEGO France, so pay no attention to  the below:-)

Yeah, I spotted the pictures too. And much of this info is already known...

About the bulldozer - NICE! What's hard to see is the size of the motors and shape - they look round, like the really old motors. And while there are one size of motors, those aren't the only ones..

The remote is cool too because you can add switch handles. the battery pack is already available.

If you look at the end of the track frame, the sprocket part holding the tracks are a new larger part than the snowmobile sprocket.

The wiring is a flat 4-wide wire.

The Jedi Starfighter with hyperspace ring is slick - and the color is nice (dark blue!). It looks a little daintier (yes, daintier) than Jason Allemann's version, which can be found here. The Kit Fisto minifig is a nice plus too.

The Naboo Starfighter is nice...but is the UCS version from a couple years ago with all the chrome replaced with grey. The Droid fighter is good with the articulation.

The MTT is BIG. It's the Brown set! The Destroyer droid doesn't look foldable.

Mars Mission: Best set is the drop ship. Over all, this theme is a start toward space, but is disappointing.

Castle: Wow - I'm not a castle person, but this has got my attention. The castles are nice, and the skeleton sets are well-thought. Skeleton horses look likeone piece.

Town: Oh boy....but why is the blue boat hull one piece?????

The container carrier and recycling truck are really cool - and I expect to be getting those! Same with the cement truck.

Creator townhouse - ALRIGHT! Brownstones, garage,  a yard - VERY well done!

Creator truck - Not bad at all.

Technic - The harvester is pretty nice, but I like the truck better!

Technic Ferrari - ooooo......

THE RACERS HAVE SLAMMERS! Bout time! One thing I have been bummed about was that the small racers didn't have a launcher until recently with the Tuner Garage.

Exo-Force - the temple looks pretty sharp. And the mecha with the booster is REALLY cool!

but what about Bionicle????

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Been quiet and sick...

Got a bug, and it gave me a sore throat and some therious congethion..no fun. I sound sorta like Darth Vader.

But I some things are going on that are worth note for BrickJournal and me.

I am now working as a contractor with the LEGO Group to provide articles to be used on the LEGO website about the community. How cool is that!

If you are wondering how this will impact the Journal, it will not affect things after initial setup is done - I need to set up a pipeline for articles I have to write (I am writing these, but they will be short articles) and work this with what I am doing now.

Concerning what is going on with me now, I am at the point where ther bottleneck to BrickJournal is...me.


I am the only layout artist on the magazine and while it is the one place I love to be, it's also becoming a place I cannot devote the time I need to maintain the standard I want. It's been a tough couple of weeks thinking on this, but I need to have a layout staff, and I need to let others get a chance to work on BrickJournal.

There's a little sadness that goes with this, as the last thing that had my fingerprints is the layout, and I am having to let it go. But as I have been getting other  projects to work with BrickJournal, my responsibilities have expanded. I also understand that while I started the mag, I don't have all the design sense or all the answers - change is something I want to see and promote.

So I am making a call for layout artists. It's volunteer, as things have been, and the layout artists should be using InDesign for layout. If anyone is interested, drop me a line here.

Friday, January 12, 2007


Take a look at this:

It's dne with LEGO parts, and can be found here!

Good job, Sebastiansand!

About the selling of LEGO offices in Enfield...

So the headline hit, and it did bring up some questions for me.

The scorecard so far:

1. LEGO moved out production from Enfield to Mexico.
2. LEGO offices were sold in Enfield and are being leased.
3. A LEGO Distribution center is going to be in Texas.
4. LEGO production in Billund got mostly moved out to Czechoslovakia (and no, I didn't spell that right)

So what's going on? Globalization.

Everyone has to remember that when a person buys a LEGO set, you are not only buying the bricks, you are also paying for machines and people who all are a part in designing, producing, and shipping a set. It's not just the plastic, cardboard, paper, and stickers - it's MUCH more. So when there is a downward push on prices, something HAS to give.

Denmark has just about the highest production wages in the world, because it's a pretty highly developed country (go there, and you'll see what I mean - it's a wonderful place). While that is good for employees, for a company it's an expense that has to be balanced.

With the state LEGO was in previous years, costs became an issue, so production began to get outsourced. It's much better cost-wise to have another company make parts than produce yourself, especially if there are things like equipment involved. It's also better if wages are lower, which can be found  if you look.

The problem, however, as people as noticed, is quality can and will drop if not enough attention is paid. Ironically, that's because the production cost is lower. So oversight is required - which requires some investment. So an additional expense is made.

But some consumers are leaving the brand because it's deemed to expensive, so there is pressure to push down prices...so the business has to reduce costs somewhere. If any of us don't buy a set, it impacts LEGO. If sets are bought only on discount, it makes an impact.

The good news is that the LEGO group is getting profitable again. What is happening now is that the company is working to become more nimble. Less expenses means more money to invest in new sets and products. TLG s working to streamline itself, and business wise, it's a smart thing to do.

the point I am making? It might be an idea to take a larger view on the company before reacting to news. After all, the most important thing is that the LEGO Group grow, and that cannot be done without some miscues and goofs. As long as new sets come out, I will look and I will buy what I like. And if the company wants feedback, I'm more than happy to give it.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Back from Enfield again...and a neat gift! Thanks SPIDERS!

and so there have been a lot of really neat things that were discussed at the LEGO office.

And I am a contractor! I'm working on an ongoing project with the LEGO Group! And it'll be something that will be seen pretty soon! I'll announce this when things are in place.

But here's a neat thing that happened to me today...

I had known Monday that I got a package, but was too late to get it until today. My flight to Enfield was a red-eye Tuesday morning and I got back Wednesday night. since I found the package notice, I had been wondering what I got. I didn't order anything...so what was it?

During this time I also cancelled a contract that I was working on for an event late in the year, so after I got the confirmation for the client, I thought that the package was the first check, which I was to return to them. No big deal. So I went to the office  and picked up a package.

It wasn't a check. It was a box from Hawaii,  from the coach of the SPIDERS FIRST LEGO League team I reported on in BrickJournal - it was a Christmas package! In it was a box of chocolate macadamia nuts (mmm), macadamia nut shortbread (mmmmm), and some special items:

1. A hat made from red and black foam straps - the black straps were stapled on the red strap so when it's worn it looks like a spider! This is the team headwear!

2. A red Hawaiian shirt, which is the same pattern as was worn by the team at FIRST LEGO League World in Atlanta, where I met the team. and to be honest, I wanted one of those shirts - how cool!

3. A postcard invite to the FLL Championship Tournament in Manoa, with pics of the team members I remember, and

4. A handmade card wishing me a merry Christmas and thanking me for writing the article.

It's a bit of a bummer to know that they won't be coming this year - SPIDERS were second place. But I  know what I will be wearing this year when I go to Atlanta.

I'll be wearing a red headstrap and red Hawaiian shirt.

Many thanks to the Dangs and to the team - and I hope they all had a great holiday and good start on the year!

Monday, January 8, 2007

Ever have too many ideas?

I have way too much in my head right now.

The layouts for BrickJournal are coming along, and I am getting articles from last year's events. I'm also getting things set up for the next issue, and planning things for print (set for summer, though this is contingent with LEGO involvement).

I am also getting things set up for BrickJournal to become more immediate - I am starting to work toward having a dedicated website for the magazine that is more than just links to the mags - I want a site where faster news comes through. BrickJournal should be constantly posting articles on events and builders, and also introducing interactive things too. I want to see podcasts and video, all the things that can make the hobby more live than an article can.

It's a tough challenge, but strangely enough, it might be less expensive than making a magazine. Go figure.

Friday, January 5, 2007

more stuff to do...

Next week, I go to Enfield to discuss more about BrickJournal.

It's been interesting. BrickJournal is definitely a thing that LEGO on the corporate level wants to become successful. But there have been some definite bumps on the road. The good thing is that things are still in the beginning stages, so change isn't too bad to deal with. At least right now.

The challenges facing the magazine are the resources and the reception by the audience.

Here's a quick number: 50,000.

That's a very round and average (off the top of my head) number of downloads per issue.

Now, the question is:

Who are these people? The first question that needs to be addressed is who exactly is getting the magazine. The number of AFOLs that are listed in LUGNET is over 3000. The number of people in Brickshelf is just over 50,000. The number of AFOLs is somewhere between. The other people are an unknown.

This is important because things like marketing and advertising can be looked at. BrickJournal in print has some implications - where does the online version go? Is there an online version? Is there a website?

I personally want a website with enhanced content that will be a tiein to the magazine. I also know realistically that the magazine lasting long term will be a challenge. Out of the 50,000, I expect less than a fourth to subscribe to the printed magazine.

The enhanced content would be video and interactive things onsite. But the big question is what will create a revenue stream for BrickJournal? And who would pay?

Definitely some questions to ponder.

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Building with the new sets...and my favorite set of the year!

I bought a few sets in the past couple of months - the new sets that should be out everywhere now. Here's my impressions of the sets I got:

4953 - Fast Flyers: This is a $20 set with 312 parts, with a lot of wedge plates. Colors are red, white and blue, with a few transparent-smoke parts for canopies.

The Builds: So far, I have built two out of the three models (a helicopter and the main fighter jet). The best model is the jet - there are swing wings and folding landing gear (with the rear wheels folding into wheel bays with doors)! The swing wing mechanism is very clever - there is a really simple mechanism for the wings that I just had to admire for a few minutes. I built a swing wing plane ages ago and used gears, which wasn't a very good solution - on wing was off just a little bitbecause the gears did not align. The plane in the set uses no gears.

There are a couple of other clever ideas in the models, like using the arched window frames as air intakes. I immediately started building alternate models with teh parts and built a push prop plane (that I haven't posted yet) that resembles the Starship (private plane). I haven't done much else yet, but the part assortment in the box has enough variety to make many, well, planes! So am I happy with it? Yes!

4939 - Cool Cars: This is a $10 set with 206 parts, most of them of the smaller size. This set has three models in the instructions, and I built the sports car.

The car is pretty impressive, as not only do the doors open in a gull wing style, but the trunk opens, and has a nice size to it. the car, when built, is actually a little heavy - which is an interesting surprise. I also like the dark red accents for the interior.

However, this set does not push me to build - I think it's because I don't like wheels for some reason. I'm too impressed with the car than to build something else right now.

So what was my favorite set for 2006? Good question.

My favorite set is the NXT. Even though I am not a master of it yet (and have a long way to go), I am looking at the potential.

The NXT has two different levels with it - the physical building and the programming. With those two factors, there's a completely new dimension to building - there's building, then building the program. I think that's really cool, as the end result is a robot that does something. I can build a plane out of System parts and plates, but with an NXT I can build a helicopter that has rotors that spin, landing gear that retracts, and one more function with the third motor - and I can program the helo to retract its gear when it reaches a certain altitude, thanks to the ultrasound rangefinder. How cool is that?

So what's your favorite set this year?

Monday, January 1, 2007

Playing catch-up...

Well, if your holiday was anything like mine, you would under stand why my notes got really short for a moment there.

I updated the BrickJournal Event Calendar, and it now has events listed from some international sites - the Brickish Association, FreeLUG, and 1000steine, to name a few. There's a lot going on in the next couple of months, so take a look here.

If anyone wants to list an event, drop me a line. I got these from going through all the club links on LUGNET, so I know I missed some stuff:-)

There's also some writing I have to do for BrickJournal. And I built an NXT tank with the new snowmobile tracks. It uses two motors to drive the tracks, and I want the third motor to do something, but I don't know what....